The Achille's Heel of the Android OS

When Apple created its “App Store” for the iPhone, it was a revolution that literally changed the Smartphone world overnight. Suddenly the competition found itself scrambling to make its own version of the App Store, create SDK’s and get programmers onboard to begin making applications for their own devices.

This creation created billions in new revenue for software makers and catapulted the iPhone into being the largest “must have” device on the planet. Almost overnight the perception of Smartphones changed into becoming something more of a laptop replacement than a phone.

With all of the recent media attention on Google’s new “Nexus One” Smartphone, it seems that Apple’s iPhone might be taking a back seat when compared to the flashy high-resolution screen and fast processor. Spec for spec, the new Android Smartphone does appear to best the iPhone to a point that some may be considering moving over to it in the near future.

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That may prove difficult when some compare the application limitation of the Android devices.

As sophisticated as the Nexus One appears, one fatal flaw glares openly on its design and on all Android designed devices for that matter. The problem lies with Google’s decision to have limited memory onboard and use memory card slots instead.

On the surface this may not seem to be a problem. Most Android phones can take a 32 GB memory card which is plenty of space for music, movies, pictures and more, so where’s the Achilles’ Heel in all of this?

Android phones cannot store applications on a memory card and must be installed into the devices’ internal memory. The issue there is that that user available memory ranges from a 74 MB to a 288 MB maximum depending on the specific model. The Nexus One only has a paltry 174 MB of user memory for data storage and applications.














This Chart shows the user available memory for the latest devices.

This represents a huge disadvantage for Android users and for third party software developers. With that kind of limit, you won’t see larger more sophisticated applications become available, as the space limit would prevent users from buying and installing their software. Some of you might be saying, “So what, Google can simply patch the OS and allow for apps to be installed on the memory card”. While that may be true it could open up serious problems for Google and Android users if they do.

For example: if a user upgrades their memory card they’d have to be very careful to transfer their apps onto the new memory card or risk rendering them unusable. This may prove too complicated for the average user to perform. Also, how would the OS react if suddenly the apps installed could not be found? And if somebody buys a cheapo memory card on sale, the lower quality memory could cause read/write errors and crash the phone or make it run slowly. I think the specter of these issues is why Google limits apps to the phone’s main memory.

If in the future, Google specs newer phones to have larger amounts of onboard memory, and large apps make it to the Android Marketplace, how will their user base react not having the ability to have access to those programs without buying a new phone?

Apple has been often criticized for not having a memory card slot and for having such a chokehold on iPhone OS components, application development and approval. That kind of control has allowed an even playing field for iPhone users to be able to upgrade their software to get the latest goodies and features. Something Android adopters will doubtfully see with so many variations of hardware and interface tweaks from carrier to carrier.

In the end, Android may end up being a confusing mess much like Microsoft’s mobile OS with no consistency and few updates from the device’s manufacturer.

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